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Pretty Girl Bullshit

Why Are We So Awful to Each Other?

Everywhere you turn, there's hate.

by Bertie Brandes
09 August 2013, 1:30pm


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Hi I'm Bertie, this column is basically a place for me to call bullshit on girl related things I think are stupid.

Liz Jones, the Daily Mail's mad-aunt-in-residence, released a book last month. Don't worry, I'm not going to review it, lots of people (including Suzanne Moore) have already done that. But what I do think is worth noting, is just how angry Liz Jones is with the entire population of the world. Especially the entire female population of the world who are happy to eat gluten and not obsess over Marilyn Monroe's "legendary" hip-to-waist ratio. Angry enough to write two books about it and countless columns, which we all seem to swallow like really horrible medicine that is actually giving you diseases. It's pretty ironic that the Mail, a 'paper so outwardly preoccupied with the "bettering" of our "vile" society, would champion writers that are so disgusted and disturbed by the existence of joy.

The problem is, we all seem to be perfectly happy taking spiritual beatings from self-loathing, insecure journalists. The media has spent a lot of time talking about trolls this week – on either side of the reader/writer divide – but really trolls have always existed, it's just that we used to call them dickheads. What happened to our self-esteem? Did we leave it back there with the whirr of a dial-up connection and that box of microchips? I understand people have the right to write whatever they want, but everywhere I turn online there's just another cesspool of body-shaming, vitriolic fury.

This is where it gets a bit difficult, because while freedom of expression and the ability to share personal experiences is obviously one of the very basic tenets of the internet, that doesn't mean there aren't a whole load of people using platforms to preach their own hateful ideas about the world at other people. Cue a Liz Jones, an Amanda Platell, or an Emma Woolf, who recently wrote about "skinny-shaming" for the Guardian. While this is a perfectly interesting topic, her opinion of it is surely skewed by the fact that she has been suffering from a long-term and very serious eating disorder.

Why do we have to load the discussion like this? Why does the observation of the objective neutral always get drowned out by the screams of the partisan? Why can't we discuss body shape from a position of empowerment? What is it with battle scars meriting experience? We all exist within bodies, we all have opinions, can't size be an issue we all chime in on, rather than people who are acutely, dangerously self-conscious and weight-aware?

"I'm fed up with being judged for being physically disciplined, for watching what I eat, and for exercising five times a week," says Woolf. "Other things a thin woman is not allowed to say: 'It takes willpower to stay slim'; 'Of course it would be easier just to eat anything I wanted but I don't'; 'Yes, I'm often hungry mid-morning but I wait until lunchtime'. Above all, a slim woman must never say: 'I prefer being slim'."

How is this to do with being health-conscious? That's to do with hoping to maintain or attain a specific body type and it's unfair to claim it in the same breath as: "We need to shift the weight debate to health, rather than looks." I would rather be engaged in a conversation about body health with somebody who wasn't suffering from an illness that caused them to starve themselves. That doesn't mean I don't want to read about personal struggles with illnesses, or Emma Woolf's impression of our culture's reaction to different body shapes, I just don't want to be schooled about my appearance by somebody who believes they can represent both an anorexic and a "healthy body".

I suppose what it boils down to is the question of why we're still so obsessed with the fact that we all look different. Rather than using the internet's endless blank space to identify new and dubious ways of making each other feel inferior (thin-shaming, fat-shaming, fat-shaming-via-thin-shaming, it's kind of endless, no?), would it really be so ridiculous to suggest that we strive to reclaim it for good? Couldn't we all try – at least some of the time – to shift the focus away from "othering" strangers, and on to loving and caring for ourselves and the people around us, age and gender irrelevant?

Life is way, way too short.

Follow Bertie on Twitter: @bertiebrandes

Previously – It's Not That Difficult to Use the Internet